The Impact of Video Games
Video games are a unique form of entertainment because they encourage players to become a part of the game's script. Although video games have been available for more than 30 years, today's sophisticated video games require players to pay constant attention to the game. Players engage on deeper level—physically and emotionally—than people do when watching a movie or TV.
- Impact of Video Games on Adolescents
- Tips on Managing Teen Media Consumption
- The Entertainment Software Rating Board
Impact of Video Games on Adolescents
Today 97% of teens in the U.S. play video games, and sales of games are growing. The domestic video game industry brings in nearly $12 billion a year. This popular form of media has both positive and negative effects on children.
The most widely acknowledged "positive" impact is that video games may help children improve their manual dexterity and computer literacy. Ever-improving technology also provides players with better graphics that give a more "realistic" virtual playing experience.
This quality makes the video game industry a powerful force in many adolescent lives. When a video game is “pro-social” and rewards players for building a town or helping others, children tend to show more empathy and helpfulness in their daily lives, according to a 2014 study by Douglas Gentile, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University.
However, studies also show that video games with violent content are linked to more aggressive behavior in teens. This is a concern because most of the popular video games contain violence.
Part of the increase in aggressive behavior is linked to the amount of time children are allowed to play video games—and daily media use by children is increasing significantly.
A 2010 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that youth age 8 to 18 devote seven-and-a-half hours a day to entertainment media. Less than half of the kids surveyed said their parents have rules about the shows and games they can watch or play.
In interactive video games, players are encouraged to identify with and role play their favorite characters. Players move up in game levels as their character masters skill and wins. In a video game about stockcars, winning may mean winning the race. But in many of the popular games, players move up levels by winning fights or battles. Players directly benefit from engaging in acts of violence.
Gentile & Anderson (2003) state that playing video games may increase aggressive behavior because violent acts are continually repeated throughout the video game. This method of repetition has long been considered an effective teaching method in reinforcing learning patterns.
Research has also found that, controlling for prior aggression, children who played more violent video games during the beginning of the school year showed more aggression than other children later in the school year. (Pediatrics, Nov. 2008)
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Tips on Managing Teen Media Consumption
Because of the popularity of video games, completely eliminating them from your child's life might be difficult. However, you can decrease the negative impact that they have on your child. Here are a few tips:
- Know the rating of the video games your child plays (see below).
- Do not install video game equipment in your child's bedroom.
- Set limits on how often and how long your child is allowed to play video games.
- Monitor all of your child's media consumption—video games, television, movies, and the Internet.
- Supervise your child's Internet use—there are now many "video games" available for playing online.
- Take the time to discuss with your children the games they are playing or other media they are watching. Ask your children how they feel about what they observe in these video games, television programs or movies. This is an opportunity to share your feelings and grow closer with your child.
- Share with other parents information about certain games or ideas for helping each other in parenting.
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The Entertainment Software Rating Board
The ESRB is a self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA). The major video game manufacturers created this board after concerned groups applied pressure over the content of video games.
Similar to the movie industry's rating system, all major game companies now submit their new products for rating to specially trained raters at the ESRB. The ESRB rates over 1,000 games per year.
The ESRB looks at a number of factors when rating games. In particular, it considers the amount of violence, sex, controversial language, and substance abuse found in a game. Based on its developed guidelines, the ESRB then gives an age recommendation and content descriptor to each game submitted.
The following are the rating symbols currently in use, according to the ESRB Web site.
- Early Childhood (EC)
Content should be suitable for children 3 years and older and contain no objectionable material.
- Everyone (E)
Content suitable for persons ages 6 and older. The game may contain minimal violence and some "comic mischief."
- Teen (T)
Content suitable for persons ages 13 and older. Content is more violent than (E) rating and contains mild or strong language, and/or suggestive themes.
- Mature (M)
Content suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Content definitely has more mature sexual themes, intense violence and stronger language.
- Adults Only (AO)
Content suitable only for adults and may contain graphic sex and/or violence. Adult Only products are not intended for persons under the age of 18.
- Rating Pending (RP)
Game has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting a final rating.
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Gentile, D. A. & Anderson, C. A. (2014). Long-Term Relations Among Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior, Psychology Science, vol. 2, 358-368.
"Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry," Entertainment Software Association website, May 2009.
“Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation, Jan. 20, 2010.
Gentile, D. A. & Anderson, C. A. (2003). Violent video games: The newest media violence hazard. In D. A. Gentile (Ed.), Media violence and children. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishing.
Anderson, C.A. & Sakamoto, A. (2008). Longitudinal Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression in Japan and the United States, Pediatrics.
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